Natasha's lying to him. Well, not lie exactly, but she's not telling him something. Which is...par for the course with her if Clint's being honest with himself. Usually he has some idea why, but the way her voice shifts when she says comprised and speaks of her ledger isn't like any other time. It's a small concern in the face of the war they're about to fight, so he puts it aside. But it doesn't stay on the back burner for long. Not after they send Loki away, and she's still so...wrong. He knows her voice. How it sounds in every situation, even when he can't see her face, all he has to do is hear her voice and he knows exactly what she wants. What she needs. This voice is new, and it is something he can't quite name.
She's there every day, and makes a point of sitting next to him even when no one else will. But her voice is still off. For a while he chalks it up the trauma of the world almost ending. He's seen the video footage of her conversation with Loki, her fight with the Hulk, and her fight with him. Glimpses of her looking small and lost, instead of the mask she usually projects. It's not really new information though, after all you don't get to be people like them without some damage along the way. And she's been through awful shit in the past without sounding the way she sounds now.
She's as close as she gets to being friendly in conversations with Banner. Annoyed by Stark, and occasionally amused by Rogers which...well Rogers cracks him up too. Anyone that clean in a business this dirty is just fucking funny period. To anyone else she probably looks like her usual unflappable self. Still waters run deep though, so he fishes around a bit, trying to get her to tell him that she's still upset. She skirts any efforts to broach the subject, always redirecting the conversation to safer ground. There's a frustrated edge in her voice that he recognizes under the glibness, and so he steps back, waits, and watches her. He doesn't know what he's looking for, but he trusts himself to be able to find it.
But none of those interactions tell him what he wants to know. Fury is keeping his distance for once, hasn't so much as contacted them, much less sent either of them on a mission. They're hanging around Stark's new tower in rooms that cost more than he makes in a year, eating food that just appears every time they might want it, and he's not sure why. It's not until Stark pulls him and Banner into one of the practice rooms to try to capture their movements for improvements to the building defenses that he gets a clue. Not from Natasha. No, it's Pepper Potts that tips him off. The look on her face, and the tremble in her voice when she walks in on him shooting arrows at Stark while the Hulk smashes...something into tiny pieces next door is eerily familiar. The look disappears in a wave of yelling, but now that he's seen it on her face he knows where to start with Tasha.
After Pepper's fit about safety is over, and Tony manages to redirect her to something calming he finds himself in the game room with Stark and Banner, idly playing pool while they talk about science. At least he thinks it's science, it might be science fiction for all he can tell. The longer they chat the more restless he gets until Tony says, "So, you going to tell us about it, or put one of those balls through the table?"
They're not really his friends. He doesn't have those in this life. Too dangerous and too much work, but they're the closest he's likely to get so he bites out "Something is bothering Natasha. I don't know what, and she keeps telling me she's fine."
The other two men exchange knowing looks. Banner clears his throat, but it's Tony who speaks first, "She's scared. Maybe of you, maybe for you. Either way, you have to figure what it takes to make her feel better."
"How do I do that when she won't even tell me what's wrong?" Clint grumbled, "She keeps changing the subject whenever I try to get her to talk about it."
"Stop letting her do that." Tony shrugged, "Take her in a room, close the door and fight it out."
"She's a spy and a trained assassin. So is he." Bruce shoots Tony a look that makes it clear he's appalled that someone so smart could be so fucking stupid, "If they fight it out, someone could end up bleeding out. There are better ways."
"Like what? Unlike some people he doesn't have the patience to spend six months shoving carrots and sugar under her nose until she warms up."
Clint is staring at Tony and wondering if he's lost it, when Bruce interjects "What Tony is trying and failing to say, is that you might have to coax it out of her. Like you coax a skittish horse to trust you."
When Clint's face remains skeptical, Bruce adds "Betty doesn't trust me not to leave again, so we're taking things very slowly. I'm fine with that, but Tony thinks it's ridiculous."
"I think there are easier and more direct ways to get what you want out of life." Tony laughed ruefully, "Then again Pepper worked for me for years before we went on our first date, so I could be totally full of shit."
No one needs to say that he's always full of shit, their silence carries that message well enough so Bruce speaks as though Tony is not in the room, "I made the mistake of explaining what's happening with Betty and me in horse terms to Tony, but I think you'll get it anyway."
"I know about horses." He doesn't say why, that's none of their business, but he does say "Locking Tasha up is a bad idea. But, I could take her out of the city. She hates the woods enough to stay put long enough to sort this out."
"I think I have a cabin somewhere." Tony frowns contemplatively, "Wisconsin maybe? Or Michigan? It's a flyover state."
Clint shakes his head, "Richie Rich, I already have someplace to take her, and a way to get her there. Only thing is, it's pretty remote. We'll be out of reach for a while. Think you can manage without us?"
"I'm Iron Man and we have a Hulk. We can manage anything." Tony grinned at him, "Tell Jarvis the coordinates and get the hell out of my house. Try not to break anything important getting her there."
Clint bobs his head in acknowledgment, mouths gratitude at Bruce and heads for his rooms. Packing is easy. Weapons, clothes, enough cash to keep them off the radar for a year if necessary, and he put a vehicle in Tony's garage right after he moved in. It's already fueled and loaded with anything else he might need. There's a part of him that's amused by how much stuff he has set aside in case he needs to run. The rest of him knows how many enemies they have, and starts thinking of what else might come in handy now that their faces are well known if not their names. Making the list is a nice distraction from what he knows he should be doing. Stark and Banner would be coming up with smooth ways to coax her into the trip, but everything glib and easy feels like ashes in his mouth.
He's loading the car when Tasha walks up and asks cautiously "Where are you going?"
"Out of here for a while." Clint turns to her, and now that he knows what to look for he can see the fear she's been trying to hide. He hears a voice that doesn't quite sound like his own say "Get your stuff."
It's not an order exactly, but she responds like a good little soldier anyway, and is back in twenty minutes with a bag. He cocks an eyebrow at the tiny thing in her hand, and points at the three bags he has stowed in the Jeep. She purses her lips, disappears again, and returns some time later with two much larger bags. He takes them from her, ignoring the look she sends his way for treating her like a girl. When they're stowed, he walks over to open her door, and can't help smirking at the look that earns him. The silence isn't as awkward as their last 10 conversations so he doesn't break it. Just closes the door behind her and jogs around to get in the drivers seat.
He waits until they're out of the city to say anything, "Stark and Banner say they'll cover anything short of apocalypse. And I gave him the coordinates so they can find us if the end of the world is imminent."
"What did Fury say?"
"Nothing. Haven't talked to him in weeks." He glanced at her, "I assume he's doing the same thing we are right now. Taking a well deserved break."
She nods, "It's weird, actually being on vacation with no one breathing down our necks."
"Once you save the world, I think you get to decide if you ever go back to work." He reaches over to switch on the radio, "We'll have to stop and get groceries on the way. I already packed the coffee and caviar."
"Nice." Tasha stares out the window for a few miles, before asking "What are we doing?"
"Taking a break from everyone else." He can hear that wrong sound in her voice again, and Bruce's words about skittish horses come to mind as Clint says gently, "I think we could use it."
Tasha gives him a look then, something so scared and hurt that it almost makes him turn the car around just to erase it. He doesn't, just shifts in his seat so he can reach over to take her hand. It's colder than he'd like, and now that there's no one around to act as a buffer he notices how it trembles in his grasp. He can't think of anything to say so he just drives and holds her hand. He doesn't let go until they have to stop for gas and to stretch their legs. She looks exhausted and so small, that he digs a blanket and pillow out of the compartment in the trunk and puts it in her seat while he waits for her to come out of the bathroom.
That gets him yet another look, one that isn't familiar in the slightest but she climbs into the seat, curls up under the blanket and is seemingly asleep on the pillow within minutes. It's another two hours until he gets to the grocery store, and he leaves her sleeping with the doors locked, and the alarm set while he takes his time choosing things that he thinks she'll enjoy. It's a little ridiculous given where they are and who they are, but he's feeling protective and she's not objecting so he goes with it.
She wakes up when he opens the car door, but silence is still the rule of the day, so she merely adjusts her position to stare out the window again. As he turns down the rough road that leads to the cabin she clears her throat, "How long are we staying here?"
"As long as it takes." He knows how that sounds, but he doesn't have a better answer, and really they don't ever have to leave if it comes to that. This is his place for when it all goes to shit, and no one can be trusted. Anyone who comes looking for him here had better be a friend, or they won't leave intact. In fact, they won't leave at all. There's no good way to explain all of that, and she knows him well enough to figure it out on her own. So, he parks the Jeep and starts unloading while she steps hesitantly toward the house. She pauses on the porch, and he moves past her to open the door. He's on his third trip, before she shakes herself out of whatever fugue has her trapped next to the swing he keeps out there for warm nights.
"I'm sorry, you're doing all the work. Let me help" He's already taken in all the luggage and the beer, so she carries in the last of the groceries, while he bustles around opening windows and switching on the few things that he couldn't trigger remotely. He pulls out the plastic tub of linens, and she takes it from him presumably in an effort to keep her hands busy. There are two beds, and she makes up both of them, but doesn't move her things out of the room where he put his. He takes that as a good sign, and doesn't interfere.
It's not until the groceries are stowed, and the car is safely out of sight that Clint lets himself really look at her. Tasha's in one of her favorite civilian outfits, all soft cotton and colors that flatter without being severe. It's a good look, and it tugs a smile out of him to see it in his house. There's something about seeing her in the garage that's bugged him all day so he asks, "How did you know where I was?"
"I've uh...kept an eye on where you were since...uh..." she ducks her head, color flooding her cheeks.
He doesn't need her to finish that sentence, and so he says hastily "Good thing. Saved me having to track you down."
She doesn't ask him why he would need to track her down, and he doesn't offer that information. Now that he knows what he's looking for he can see what Banner meant about skittish horses and frightened women. They've never spoken of love, more for her comfort than his, but he knows how he feels about her, and she's never done anything to make him think that things aren't mutual.
"Where are we?" She walks over to look out the window, "I don't even know which direction you drove us."
"It's my fallback plan." Clint steps closer to her, bringing one hand up to rest on the wall next to the window, "Someplace for when everything goes to hell."
"So why are we here now?" Tasha twists slightly to look at him, "Everything is fine."
"Everything in the outside world is fine. Mostly. Everyone's too busy worrying about aliens to fight with each other. But everything in our world is not fine." He hadn't planned to come at this before they'd even sat down, but it's here and he's not going to turn away from it. "Ever since I woke up, you've been different and you keep telling me you're fine and that's a lie. We don't do that to each other. Not unless they make us."
It's true, they tell each other as much as they can, when they can. When someone else is holding the weight of so many secrets, it makes it easier to bear what they do for a living. But now she's either of afraid of him which...well that makes a lot of sense even if it hurts. Or afraid for him. That part makes less sense, but they can work it out. But first she has to talk to him. So when she backs away Clint follows her. It's almost a dance, and he can figure out the steps just by the ways her eyes telegraph her next move. There's really nowhere for her to go except one of the bedrooms, and even that won't keep out the sound of his voice. They both know it, so he lets her back away, but he doesn't pretend he's going to let this go.
For a moment Tasha looks like she's going to rush him, and he braces himself for it, but then her lip trembles and she turns away from him. "What do you want me to say?"
"The truth." He raises his hand toward her back, then lets it drop because her body posture screams that she can't take being touched right now, "Whatever that is."
She doesn't say anything, and as the silence stretches on habit makes him fall into the resting position he uses on missions. Hunting people requires almost as much patience as getting her to open up, so he's not really surprised when she flees into the bedroom instead of saying anything. He busies himself with making dinner, waiting until it's ready to knock on the door. She doesn't look at him when she comes out, instead letting her hair hide her face. He doesn't need to see the red rimmed eyes, or the tear tracks she thinks she's hiding to know that she's been crying though, so takes one of her cold little hands in his and guides her into his arms.
As embraces go, it's frankly kind of a mess. She's clinging to him and trying to escape him all at the same time, and they both know it can't work that way. Frustration makes him pick her up and carry her to the table. She tries to get up as soon as he sits down, and he takes the risk of locking his arms to keep her in place. It's not something he'd do in front of other people, but here in private it seems like a good idea to show her that he has no intention of letting her go. Tasha's face under all that hair is probably a sight to see, but he's not too concerned with her hurting him so he just waits her out. Eventually she folds herself back into his lap. Once he's sure she won't try to get up again he loosens his hold, and reaches for a fork.
Feeding Tasha bits of chicken and pasta in between his own bites of dinner isn't the strangest thing Clint's ever done, least of all with her, but it seems to be the hardest thing he'll ever do when he realizes belatedly that this is the first meal he's seen her finish in weeks. There's beer and bread to go with the meal that he even coaxes her into consuming before she says sullenly, "I thought you were dead. Your body was up and moving around, and I kept telling myself I could save you but..."
Her voice trails off, and he shifts in his seat so that he can lift her and himself out of the hard wooden chair. Making a mental note to buy cushions, he maneuvers them both over to the couch and settles down again to wait. She shoves her hair back, and he catches sight of fresh moisture on her cheeks.
Clint reaches up to brush it away with his thumb, and she leans into his hand as she says "Loki is a vicious little shit, and I was afraid he'd hollowed you out like a pumpkin. Just taken everything that was you, and thrown it away so he could shove in something terrible."
"He didn't though." Cradling her cheek his hand, he turns her face toward him, "I'm right here. I made it through that just fine."
"This time. You made it through this time." She touches his face, the tips of her fingers lightly brushing against the stubble on his chin, "What about the next time Fury sends you somewhere? What if I can't get to you in time?"
He can feel the pieces sliding into place even as he curses himself mentally for being so damned stupid. All this time everyone's been dancing around how he feels about what Loki did to him, and she's been right there to tell him it wasn't his fault. It never occurred to him that she'd blame herself because he took the detail in the desert while they were arguing about something or the other. But Tasha's good at picking up the weight of the world when no one's looking, and this time there was no one to catch her at it.
She's still staring at him, little fingers hovering just over his mouth, and he knows he should say something, but all he can think of is kissing those fingers so does just that, smiling when she shivers at the touch. He takes the moment to ask himself what he can say that would make this better, and the solution comes to him in almost tidy little box.
"I have a complete lack of interest in going back to work for Fury" Clint cocks his head to the side speculatively, "And I'd really prefer it if you stopped working for him too. So...problem solved."
"You can't just stop being you because I'm acting like one of those stupid weepy girls", She smiles at him ruefully, "You've always said you couldn't imagine doing anything else."
"That was before well, before everything." He tilts his head back, staring up at the ceiling he adds "We saved the world. Fought monsters, and a god out of legend, and we saved the damned world. I don't feel like I owe my country anything any more."
"You're not going to sit up here and do nothing for the rest of your life." She twists in his lap, "We're not the kind of people who have nice office jobs and go home to suburbia every night."
"No, we're Avengers. We couldn't go back to hiding in the shadows now even if we wanted to, not with our faces plastered all over the news every night. They want to name schools after us, and have us do press conferences with politicians. You can't be a spy if everyone knows your name baby, and no one's ever going to trust me on a team after what Loki did."
"I trust you, Stark, Banner, and Rogers all trust you too." Tasha cups his face in her hands, "We know it wasn't your fault."
She believes that so deeply that all Clint can do is smile up at her, "It wasn't your fault either. And I know they trust me. That's the point. We're part of a team that doesn't have to go on solo missions for Fury. Not any more."
"What are you saying?" There's hope in her voice under the fear now, and that gives him the courage to to do something he thought he'd never do.
"I'm saying we can hand in our resignations right now. Well...later when we've written them, and then we can be Avengers when they need us, and spend the rest of our time doing something else. Something that doesn't send us to opposite corners of the planet every few months." The more he speaks the better it sounds, because fuck is he tired of worrying about her when she's away from him. And even though this is the first time she's admitted to worrying about him, he's willing to bet a good bowstring that she's sick of it too.
"What could we do?" Tasha's voice is strong now, solid, the way it always is when she's thinking of her next move.
"Corporate security consultants." It sounds fancy in the plain walls of his cabin, but it's the best way he can think of to describe their combined skill sets. "Stark would hire us in a heart beat, and so would a lot of other places. We break in to find the cracks in their systems, and they pay us to point them out. Or we could try doing nothing for awhile. We haven't been home enough to spend what they pay us."
He doesn't say anything about the money they both made before they came to SHIELD, though he's sure she has a stash just like he does, one that's at least as big as the paychecks he's been banking, and not really spending for years. Money stopped being a driving force for either of them a long time ago. He's lost his taste for being wasteful, and she never had one so he's pretty sure that between them they have enough for a long comfortable retirement.
Tasha's staring at him in that wondering way she does sometimes when he manages to surprise her, and so he says flatly "I'm not okay with you feeling like this over something that can be fixed so easily."
"You're talking about overhauling your whole life so I'll stop blubbering." She pressed her hands to her face, "I can't ask you to do that."
"You didn't ask me to do it." He pulled her hands down so that he could look into her eyes, "If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't. The only question is if you're okay with this plan. Do you want to do this with me?"
Eyes bright, she nodded at him sharply and curled herself forward to kiss him. It's slow, and salty, but it feels so damned good. He tangles one hand in her hair to hold her in place so that he can kiss her thoroughly. It's not their first time, but it might as well be with everything that has changed and everything that will change. So, he nips at her and scrapes his callused fingers over every inch of her skin that he can reach. It's been a while since they had anything like privacy, and he knows how quiet she can be as a result. He doesn't want that, so he lets go of her mouth finally and deliberately rubs his whiskers against the soft skin in the hollow of her throat while he suckles at the pulse points on neck.
Tasha's hands skim over his shoulders, gliding up the back off his neck to hold him close against her while he works. It's a familiar sign of her arousal, one that usually means he can rip off her panties and slide right in. No need to rush though, so he slides one hand under the pretty little shirt has on, and let's his fingers explore the soft skin of her sides. She's not ticklish there, not exactly, but she is sensitive and he's rewarded with a moan as his fingers skirt the edge of her bra. She rears away from him to pull the shirt off, and he can't help the grin that blooms on his face at the sight of all the beautiful flesh just waiting for him.
He surges forward, eager to taste every inch of her, and Tasha trails her fingers through the soft scruff of hair on the back of his head while he licks, and sucks at her breasts through the wisps of lacy she's still wearing. Opening her bra with his teeth is a trick he mastered years ago, but he lingers over it, fascinated by the way she feels as she bucks under his tongue. She's clutching at his hair by the time he relents and opens the clasp.
The tugging on his hair is a distraction, so grabs her hands and pins them behind her back while he focuses on laving his tongue across every inch of the sensitive skin that he's just unveiled. She's panting now, a light sheen of sweat starting to coat the skin he isn't licking. It's a new flavor, and he shifts his attention to capture it too. It draws him down her body, and whimpering starts to filter in through the pants and moans. It's one of his favorite sounds, so he takes his time working out what draws it out of her.
Profanity is starting to mix in with the gasps and moans, so Clint kisses his way back up her body to capture her filthy filthy mouth. It's a battle now, all teeth and tongues, and he wins by sucking on her bottom lip. He could have her on the couch. Will have her there eventually, but right now he wants her sprawled in his bed. So he levers himself to his feet, grinning smugly when she locks her legs around him. He can walk and kiss her so he does, their tongues sliding over and around each other in ways that make him so lightheaded he has to stop at the wall outside the bedroom. Pressing Tasha's back against the wall to stabilize them both, he almost gives into the temptation to lower his pants. It's a thought that really appeals to him, and he files it away for later, but he wants this the right way for once.
She slithers out of his grip once they're near the bed, ripping the buttons off his shirt in her haste to get him naked. He returns the favor, snatching her jeans open, and wrestling her out of them. Tasha's panties are still on though, even after the last of his clothes has hit the floor. When she reaches down to pull them off he tsks and says, "Not time for that yet."
The look she gives him might actually be the face some of her marks have seen in the past, but he doesn't dwell on it. Just opens her bag and pulls out the strip of silk she uses to tie her hair back. Like everything else she owns it's multipurpose, and as he approaches the bed she sticks her hands out. He's the only person she's ever let tie her up off the job, and that level of trust is something he cherishes, so he catches her eye to make sure she's really okay, before he winds the scrap of fabric around her deceptively tiny wrists. Her eyes are fucking smoldering, and he knows how twee that shit sounds, but that's the only way to describe the look she's giving him as he crawls up the bed toward her.
He pushes her arms up over her head, holding them in place for an extra moment to make sure she knows to keep them out of the way. He's so hard it hurts, and part of him just wants to give into what they both want, but this is the start of something. And so he reins himself in, and focuses on her. Clint's mouth gets him in trouble more often than it gets him out of it, but today...today he's going to use it for all its worth. So he licks, nibbles, and teases Tasha until she's trembling, and he can feel moisture soaking into the hand he has cupping her cunt. His fingers glide through her folds until he finds that spot where he knows she'll come undone, and he flicks his wrist just so while she screams out her pleasure.
She's still quaking around the fingers he's used to fuck her when he smacks her ass. And okay, he's fucking her with one hand and spanking her with the other, but that's not the worst thing he's ever done to her in or out of bed. And she doesn't protest, just writhes under his ministrations while he kisses his way back down to her clit so he can suck on it until she cries out again. And again. It's a heady experience watching her fly apart in front of him. So heady, he's not sure how many times he's brought her over, but he knows he has to stop soon or his goddamned head will explode. So when Tasha tosses her head from side to side, and babbles something that might be his name he fishes a condom out, slips it on, and slides right into heaven.
It's not gentle, they're both too far gone for that. But oh is it sweet, and somewhere between the first deep thrust and the third, he lets himself go and bucks his hips into her like it's the last thing he'll ever do. Maybe it is. He's free falling and she's screaming something that might be Russian, and then his head actually does explode. Or maybe that's just his dick reacting to him untying the knot in it. Either way they're both sweaty silly messes, and that's good enough for the first time as whoever they are now. She's asleep before he can untie her, but he does it anyway bringing her arms down to rest on his chest while they lay there sweaty and sticky in the welter of blankets.
He stays awake long enough to get the condom off and tossed at the wastebasket in the corner. It might be a mess he'll have to clean up in the morning, but he doesn't really give a shit about that right now. Sleep drags him under and keeps him there for a very long time. He doesn't dream of anything, and Tasha doesn't scream or pace, and in the morning when a warm mouth on his balls wakes him up, he gets a smile and "My turn" said in just the right voice. He reaches for her, and stops short when the handcuffs don't let him reach. It's a good morning, hell a good day period, and okay he dragged things out last night, and she's probably going to do the same today. But, there are worse ways to die than at the hands of beautiful woman who knows every pleasure center in the human body.